The Pern Books – part 1.


There are few, if any, authors who can pull me into a book and keep me glued there as well as Anne McCaffrey, and that’s especially true of her series of books about the planet and peoples of Pern. Whether you classify these books as science fiction or fantasy, and they have elements of each though I favor science fiction as the correct classification, they contain story lines that pull the reader along and characters to care for (or against), all in a straight-forward storytelling style with some of the best world building you’ll find anywhere. The cast of characters is large enough to tell the tale and no larger, you won’t need a huge who’s who for these books.

Over the span of the books, if read in the order suggested below, the plot-line goes roughly so: Colonists arrive at the planet named Pern and begin a colony in the southern hemisphere. In the 10th year an unexpected biological threat, coupled with volcanic eruptions, forces the survivors to regroup and move to the northern hemisphere, rocky and inhospitable but safer. As resources dwindle, some native species are bio-engineered to help fight the menace. Over centuries, the threat is removed, for a while at least, and society, which has devolved to medieval levels, settles. Eventually some discoveries are made, giving a clue to the true origins of humans on the planet. Believe me, there is a ton more, but that will suffice. If it sounds boring, well, it isn’t.

Reading Order

Anne McCaffrey was asked, between the last of 16 books written solely by her and the later (and greatly inferior) books on which she collaborated with her son Todd or written solely by him, what was the best order to read those 16 Pern books, since they were published out of chronological order. Her answer pretty much followed the straight order expected. My own suggested order is just slightly different. Here it is. Note that it includes some short stories which are nice to read in order, but it’s not essential (and make the list stretch to 20).

  1. Dragonsdawn
  2. Chronicles of Pern: First Fall
  3. Dragonseye (U.K. title: Red Star Rising)
  4. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern
  5. Dragonflight
  6. Dragonquest
  7. Dragonsong
  8.  Dragonsinger
  9. White Dragon (1st 2 chapters)
  10. Dragondrums
  11. Nerilka’s Story
  12. “The Girl Who Heard Dragons” from The Girl Who Heard Dragons
  13. “Runner of Pern” from Legends
  14. The Renegades of Pern
  15. Masterharper of Pern
  16. All the Weirs of Pern
  17. Dolphins of Pern
  18. Skies of Pern

It is tempting to think of the books as trilogies, as used to this form as science fiction and especially fantasy reader have become. I prefer to break them into singles and pairs (using the numbers on the list above) thusly: 1 & 3, 4, 5 & 6, 7 & 8, 9 & 10, 11&12, 13 & 14, 15 & 16, 17, 18. The paired books can be read one straight after the other, barely a break in the story or time frame. In fact they are best read that way. #2 can be read at any time, it contains five stories scattered through the timeline, though I’d suggest reading it after most of the novels.


The first chronologically of the Pern books, lays the foundation for the events to follow, it’s really the pilot, the set-up, the background story of the series. This is where we get the largest dose of science fiction until nearly the end of the series (more on that in another part of this article). Here we meet the people that by the fourth book and after are only legends, their names attached to places. Here also we see the events which shape opinions, societal structure, values and later, everyday life for all who live on Pern.

The colonists arrive and survey the planet briefly, before settling on the original landing site. These are people who have come to a planet not rich in ore or other materials which would have drawn huge resource-hungry companies which rip worlds apart for their wealth and ship it to hungry home planets. These colonists want an agrarian life and a simplified technology base, they are seeking to escape the crowded, mechanized, high-tech life they left. The basic supplies of manufactured materials they brought were expected to be used and used up, by which time they would have established a self-supporting society using what the planet had to offer and their own ingenuity.

The unexpected emergency which befalls them, along with the geological misunderstandings of the initial planet survey 200 years before, combine to force this gradual regression into an emergency paced run for life, with much of the goods staying behind and lost forever. It is all the colonists can do just to understand what is befalling them and how to survive it.

I can’t tell you more than that without giving spoilers, and you’ll have to take my word for it that there is a great deal more to the storyline. This book is the place to start.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Adventure, books, fantasy, science fiction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Pern Books – part 1.

  1. Bill Crider says:

    I’ve never read more than a couple of these, plus THE SHIP WHO SANG, which I liked a lot. So many books, so little time.

  2. Your review makes me want to give them a second try. Never was able to get into them though. Likely won’t though(same reasons as Bill). I have a lady friend that loves McCaffrey above all others(and incidentally agrees with your thoughts on the quality after Todd joins the team).

  3. deslily says:

    It is so nice to read when someone loves Anne’s Pern books as much as I do..:o)
    I’ve never read them in that succession. My introduction was to read dragonflight, dragonquest and the white dragon and then the harper all trilogy. This works for me because I am not a reader of sci fi (although love love sci fi movies). And so the dawn sisters came later for me and because it came later and I was already in love with the characters and dragons I barely noticed it turning into sci fi. And she wrote Marita’s Ride (time travel) and such so well that again I didn’t really associate with “sci fi”… But I do own all the books and have read them more than thrice and will so again!

  4. Steve Lewis says:

    My story’s the same as Bill’s. I read the first two or three, enjoyed them, and drifted away, never to return. Not McCaffrey’s fault. But I kept buying them, thinking that someday…

    Perhaps this overview you’re working on will steer me back in the right direction. Nice work! I’m already looking forward to Part 2.

  5. Todd Mason says:

    This business of having the kid’s continue the legacy rarely works well…

  6. Todd Mason says:

    Or even the kids…Brian Herbert, Jeff Shaara, etc. The kids who actually strike out on their own projects (i.e. R.C. Matheson, Susan Cheever, the Benchleys, Megan Abbott, Tabitha and Stephen King’s sons even) are something else again

  7. chrislatray says:

    I read half-a-dozen or so of these way back in high school. Don’t remember them so well, only that I really liked them.

  8. Joachim Boaz says:

    Oh, I LOVED the Pern books as well — they proved to be the segway from fantasy into sci-fi for me — especially when I read the one installment which discusses the settlement of the planet and the genetic engineering of the dragons (I forgot which book that was). Great post!

  9. Richard says:

    Bill & Randy – yep, I understand the so many books thing, but with these I like them well enough to make them aprt of my small “to reread” collection (others include Tintin, James Herriot, … maybe there are more then I thought). I seem to be doing a lot of rereading this summer.

    deslily, you may find you enjoy the books in this order more than you think. You say you don’t like SF, but at least half of the series has strong SF elements. I started reading them the same way you did, Dragonquest, Dragonflight, White Dragon, then the Harper Hall books.

  10. Richard says:

    Todd, I agree completely, on both counts.

  11. Richard says:

    Chris, I’m surprised how many people say they read a few a long time ago and really liked them… but didn’t read any more. Interesting.

    Joachim, that was the book reviewed in this post: Dragonsdawn.

  12. I’ve picked up Anne McCaffrey books over the years. Your fine review is giving me the urge to read some of them. Your suggested reading list is helpful.

  13. thanks for this. I would like to get started on the whole series.

  14. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Even though I know it’s unlikely I will ever read these I really enjoyed your overview. If anything could get me to try one, this was it!

  15. Richard says:

    Thanks for the compliments. It gets better next week.

  16. Patti Abbott says:

    I think I read one or two a long time ago. Nice to read about the series here.

  17. Richard says:

    Just finished reading DRAGONSEYE, the 2nd in Pern chronology, it will be part of next week’s installment.

  18. Barbara Watchorn says:

    I, also, love the A. M. written PERN stories. So much that I am involved in a project (with a few other fans) whereby we are buying land and developing it as a year-round PERN inspired retirement community. We have several Hollywood artisians who have agreed to help ‘set in’ the landscaping and visuals for the community center. CHRISLATRAY – PERN stories are no longer in San Antonio, Texas school libraries, or, indeed, available in the public library system – too controversial….so, I buy ’em and give them to my daughter’s kids….who can’t wait for the next one….such a treasure!

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